For media comment email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Chris on 0403 013 183 or Lucy on 0404 728 104.
Update on incitement charge against Chris Breen
18 November 2020
“The hearing for the incitement charge against Chris Breen has been adjourned for a full one-day hearing on Wednesday 27 January 2021,” said David Glanz for the Refugee Action Collective (RAC).
“It will be an online hearing in open court. Observers can contact the magistrates’ court to arrange attendance.
“The police prosecutor Anthony Albore acknowledged at today’s contest mention that using the charge of incitement in this way was a novel prosecution, and there was no existing case law for it – in other words police are attempting to create novel law to restrict the right to protest.
“This is a dangerous precedent that could be used in future against trade unions, or against any protest from climate strikes to Black Lives Matter rallies.
“The Refugee Action Collective calls on the Andrews Labor government to instruct Victoria Police to drop this attempt to restrict civil liberties and to drop the incitement charge against Chris Breen.
“RAC calls on the Andrews Labor government to challenge the Morrison government’s cruel indefinite detention of refugees rather than allow the criminalisation of those who are speaking out,” concluded Glanz.
Call David Glanz for more info on 0438 547 723.
Protest at court for refugee activist facing incitement charge
17 November 2020
A group of 10 refugee and civil rights supporters will gather tomorrow, Wednesday 18 November, at 10am outside the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court for the contest mention hearing for Chris Breen.
The protest will take place physically but the hearing itself is online at 11am. It is in open court and observers are welcome to apply to the court to attend. [Contact David Glanz below for details.]
“Breen is charged with incitement for being one of the organisers of a COVID-safe car convoy protest on 10 April 2020 calling to free the refugees in the Mantra hotel, and others similarly detained who came to Australia under the Medevac legislation. Refugee supporters were fined a total of $50,000 for the protest but are contesting the fines,” said David Glanz for the Refugee Action Collective.
“The protest was COVID-safe with participants registering, and no more than two people from the same household per car. The Country Fire Authority and police themselves organised car convoys to celebrate birthdays in the same week that Breen was charged.
“The April 10 protest highlighted the abhorrent conditions and lack of COVID safety measures for refugees held at the Mantra detention hotel. Despite coming to Australia for medical treatment, they have often not received it, and their mental and physical health continues to deteriorate in detention. They remain detained after more than seven years and are in indefinite lockdown.
“Hundreds of organisations and individuals, including eight trade unions and five MPs have signed a statement calling for the charge to be dropped.
“The full hearing for Breen will likely be held early next year. If the charges against Breen are upheld it will have a chilling effect on the right to protest.
“Even now with zero cases of COVID-19 for over two weeks only 10 people at the same time are allowed to gather outside for a rally in a public place. Separate groups of 10 are not allowed to space out. This is very different from restaurant rules that allow 50 people outside. In streets with many restaurants, that can amount to thousands gathering in the same street.
“Premier Daniel Andrews’ roadmap to easing COVID-19 restrictions contains no route to restore the right to protest. There is no plan for allowing more than 50 people to legally protest no matter how long cases stay at zero.
“Premier Andrews also continues to maintain his silence on the Morrison government’s callous treatment of refugees indefinitely locked down in Victoria, despite his Labor colleagues Ged Kearney MP and Peter Khalil MP speaking out.
“The Refugee Action Collective calls for the charges against Breen to be dropped, for the fines against refugee supporters to be dropped, for COVID-safe protest to be allowed, and for the release of all the refugees held indefinitely in the Mantra Hotel and around Australia,” concluded Glanz.
Call David Glanz for more info on 0438 547 723.
Action Alert – Protest to free the refugees at the Mantra this Saturday 14 November
13 November 2020
Refugee supporters will protest outside the Mantra hotel in Preston at 2pm this Saturday 14 November, calling to free the refugees in the Mantra and others held indefinitely in Australia and offshore.
“The Coalition government’s indefinite detention of refugees in Australia’s detention network must end. The Mantra, MITA, Best Western Fawkner and all detention centres must close. After more than seven years, refugees must be released into the community on permanent protection visas,” said Lucy Honan for the Refugee Action Collective (RAC).
Refugees have survived the offshore torture camps, medical evacuations, isolation, and months of heightened COVID-19 risk because of the conditions in detention. Mental distress and suicide attempts have escalated, one in five in the Mantra have self-harmed or attempted suicide, and one in two for refugees held in MITA.
Honan continued: “Refugees and asylum-seekers living in the community have been cruelly excluded from JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments. They have been left destitute, and relying on the much diminished capacity of charities. They deserve permanency and welfare rights now.
“Protests calling to Free the Refugees outside the Mantra hotel have been occurring daily since COVID-19 restrictions were eased. Last Saturday police facilitated a protest of 40 concerned residents and supporters to be in four spaced out groups of 10. However they have told RAC that protesters this Saturday will not be given the same treatment and that even if we spread groups of 10 out hundreds of metres apart ‘participants gathering for a common purpose may be exposed to receiving a fine’. Police have said we need to rotate participants in groups of 10 through time.
“This is blatantly political policing. Fifty people are allowed outside at restaurants, and those restaurants can be side by side making for thousands in one street, but only 10 are allowed to protest for refugee rights.
“Especially when there have been no COVID-19 cases for two weeks and there is no community transmission, Premier Daniel Andrews needs to end the discriminatory restrictions on political activity.
“Premier Andrews’ federal colleagues Ged Kearney MP and Peter Khalil MP have spoken repeatedly against Scott Morrison’s indefinite locking up of refugees in Victoria. It’s time for Andrews to end his silence on this issue. It’s time for Morrison to end his cruelty and free the refugees,” concluded Honan.
*Free the Refugees – End Detention Now
*JobSeeker and JobKeeper for Refugees and Asylum-Seekers
Ismail Hussein – refugee detained in the Mantra hotel
Jana Favero, Director- Advocacy and Campaigns, ASRC
Aran Mylvaganam, Tamil Refugee Council
For further comment contact Lucy Honan from RAC on 0404 728 104.
Too much waste, too much cruelty: Refugee advocates call for Dutton to be sacked
6 November 2020
Dutton wastes $1.2 billion on “processing” 26 asylum claims; locks up very ill Medevac transferees, providing little health care; and evicts community detainees while ending their income support.
Via the growing number of federal financial scandals, the Morrison government has been, in effect, steadily self-sabotaging its claim to be Australia’s “best economic manager”.
“But”, says Max Costello, for the Refugee Action Collective (Victoria), “Peter Dutton’s Department of Home Affairs has gone beyond sabotage. It has now totally demolished that claim – by squandering $1.19 billion on an almost non-existent program.”
Costello says: “Home Affairs, within its 2020–21 federal budget allocation, is spending $1.19 billion on ‘offshore processing’, even though the Regional Processing Centre on PNG’s Manus Island was closed on 31 October 2017, and Nauru’s RPC has been empty since 31 March 2019.
“The $1.19 billion figure was identified in the Refugee Council of Australia’s budget analysis.
“Compared to that $1.19 billion, the well-publicised government squanderings – such as $170 million on untendered Murray-Darling water buybacks, $30 million on Badgerys Creek land worth only $3 million, $118,000 on the ASIC chairman’s tax return expense, and $20,000 on Australia Post Swiss watches – are all just small change,” commented Costello.
“Home Affairs has form,” says Costello. “The Auditor-General has repeatedly castigated Dutton’s department for its lack of financial probity, most recently in May 2020 over the way it awarded Manus Island contracts costing $745 million.
“And, according to the Equity Economics estimate quoted in the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s At what cost? report of December 2019, Home Affairs has spent a massive $9 billion on offshore and onshore detention over the four years 2016–20.
“At the heart of such squandering is politics – successive Australian government decisions to prefer offshore processing to complying with the Refugees Convention that Australia signed and ratified decades ago. It requires all asylum claims to be processed onshore, and detention to be strictly time-limited.
“Dutton’s mix of waste and cruelty inflicts an enormous human cost,” Costello explains. “For example, when refugees were flown to Australia after six years of offshore detention that had wrecked their health, what did Dutton do? Placed them in detention. They are still detained (mainly in hotels), and have often not received the health care they came here for, so their mental and physical health keeps deteriorating. It would make both financial and humanitarian sense to free them.
“But the squandering continues,” says Costello. “Although Home Affairs knows that, as at 31 August 2020, only 26 asylum-seekers were still having their refugee status claims processed offshore (on Nauru), it spends $1.19 billion on ‘offshore processing’. The cost to Australian taxpayers is about $46 million per claim being processed.
“So,” asks Costello, “who is getting the $1.19 billion – and for doing what? Such questions must be asked at Senate Estimates, and by the Auditor-General.
“The heads of ASIC and Australia Post resigned over expenditure totalling $138,000 on tax and watches. So why hasn’t Mr Dutton been sacked for expenditure of $1.19 billion on almost nothing, but to keep the cruelty of offshore processing alive?
“But,” adds Costello, “Dutton doesn’t just waste $1.19 billion on one asylum-seeker policy; he acts as a cruel cost-cutter in another. He’s writing letters (500 so far) to people in community detention, giving them three weeks to find – and pay for – their own accommodation, while also virtually ending their financial support. He doesn’t care if they face homelessness and starvation.
“RAC (Vic) says the policies Dutton implements must be replaced by bringing to Australia the people still stranded in PNG and Nauru; freeing asylum-seekers and refugees from detention (with financial and medical support); and promptly granting them permanent protection visas.”
RAC (Vic) has called a COVID-safe protest at the Mantra Hotel in Preston at 2pm on Saturday 14 November calling for the end to the human cost for refugees who were brought to Australia under the Medevac law and have now been detained for more than seven years.
For further comment call Max Costello: 0425 701 690 or Chris Breen: 0403 013 183.
Protest in pairs outside the Mantra Hotel this weekend, as detention self-harm incidents increase dramatically
9 October 2020
“Local refugee supporters will protest in pairs, hourly from 10am on Saturday 10 October to 5pm on Sunday 11 October, on Hotham Street outside the Mantra hotel in Preston, Melbourne (protesters all live within 5km of the detention hotel). They will call for the immediate release of all refugees into the community,” said Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective.
“The mental and physical health of refugees continues to deteriorate in detention. The ongoing harm from detention itself has been exacerbated by the risk of COVID-19 and the inability of refugees to protect themselves from that risk while detained.
“Self-harm is now at extraordinary levels. One in four have self-harmed in APODs (Alternative Places of Detention, which includes the Mantra) and outrageously one in two have self-harmed in detention centres called ITAs (Immigration Transit Accommodation, which includes MITA in Broadmeadows).
“At MITA in Broadmeadows, self-harm incidents have jumped from an average of 71.5 per year for the last four years to 99 for the first seven months this year – this is more than an effective doubling as it would extrapolate to 170 for the full year.
“It is abundantly clear that the self-harm is a direct result of prolonged indefinite detention. This is a brutal and cowardly crime being committed against refugees. Yet to date the only penalties have been for refugee supporters drawing attention to the crime.
“Police initially threatened to fine refugees supporters $5000 and charge them with incitement for protesting in pairs. They have since backed down, and now accept that protesting in pairs is legal social interaction under current health regulations.
“Protesting against the Coalition government’s crime of indefinite detention is essential. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews must ensure that democratic rights are not criminalised, and police overreach stops. He must also end his silence on the Morrison government’s cruelty to the Medevac refugees in the Mantra hotel and MITA detention centre.
“In 2016 Premier Andrews spoke out for baby Asha in Queensland, and similar refugees, calling for ‘compassion… because these children and their families aren’t some theoretical group of people overseas waiting to come to this country. They’re already here.’ He said they would be welcome in Victoria. It’s time for Andrews to step up and speak out for refugees already in Victoria.
“The refugees in the Mantra hotel and in the MITA detention centre must be immediately freed, along with those held around Australia, and those Australia continues to hold offshore,” concluded Breen.
For further comment call Chris Breen on 0403 013 183.
Refugee activists hold projection protest at Mantra hotel
4 October 2020
Refugee rights activists projected protest photos onto the Bell City Mantra hotel in Preston where the federal government has detained refugees for over a year on Saturday 3 October.
The projection was visible to the refugees detained in the Mantra as well as local residents.
“The Morrison government must evacuate Mantra and all of Australia’s immigration detention centres immediately. The situation for refugees in the Mantra is appalling, with up to three people sharing a room and no room for social distancing in common areas,” said Refugee Action Collective organiser Lucy Honan.
“The men are surrounded at close quarters by Serco guards who fly in from all over the country.
“The Mantra is like a cruise ship on land – if COVID-19 breaks out, it could affect every refugee. These men came to Australia under Medevac legislation and have conditions like diabetes, respiratory problems, kidney disease and Crohn’s disease.”
RAC protest organisers said the projection had been planned to coincide with a relay of paired, socially distanced activists from within 5km of the Mantra. However, police initially threatened organisers with arrest and fines. The police backed down on Saturday morning after the in-person protest had been called off.
“The intimidation and threats from police are appalling and crushing the democratic right to protest. A RAC member has already been charged with incitement and 30 activists fined $1652 each for a COVID-safe car convoy protest. We will not stop organising safe protests to put pressure on the Morrison government to release refugees from detention,” said Honan.
Photos and videos of the projection are available on request.
Contact Lucy Honan: 0404 728 104.
Police threat to fine two people gathering to support refugees is ‘crushing dissent’
29 September 2020
Police say they will fine refugee supporters $5000 each if they stand in a pair, 1.5 metres apart, wearing masks, and within 5km of their homes, outside the Mantra Bell City detention hotel.
The Refugee Action Collective had planned to organise a series of COVID-safe gatherings, an hour apart, on Saturday 3 October to protest a Federal Government Bill that would deprive refugees and asylum-seekers in detention of their mobile phones.
RAC had also planned a media conference, which police say would also attract fines. “It is outrageous that Victorian police have become the arbiters of who can hold media conferences, of who can speak and who cannot,” said RAC spokesperson David Glanz.
Glanz said the Bill is scheduled to be debated in the Senate next week.
“Refugees are distraught at the possibility of being cut off from family and friends, and from using phones to expose abuse or COVID-safety failures within the detention system. This is an urgent humanitarian issue and demands an urgent, COVID-safe public response.
“The latest health regulations allow up to five people from two households to publicly gather outside for social interaction within 5km of their homes. RAC supporters who were planning to gather in pairs on 3 October would have met those requirements.
“Our protest would have posed no health risk and the threat of fines from police is completely unwarranted. It is a naked attempt to crush dissent,” said Glanz.
“The Premier and Chief Health Officer have both said that outdoor activities are 20 times safer than indoors.
“Are police seriously suggesting that two people standing 1.5 metres apart and wearing masks are a health threat just because they are holding placards criticising government policy?
“The regulations do not stipulate that people meeting for social interaction cannot talk about refugee rights or hold signs supporting refugees.
“Even under current health regulations, hundreds can enter supermarkets, primary schools are re-opening and 120,000 people are returning to work.
“RAC calls upon Premier Daniel Andrews and Jill Hennessy, the Minister for the Coordination of Justice and Community Safety: COVID-19, to advise police that their threat of fines is an outrageous over-reach and waste of public resources.
“Refugees’ physical and mental health continues to deteriorate in detention and the high risk of COVID-19 to detainees has not been seriously addressed.
“The problems facing refugees and asylum-seekers, like the 60 or so men imprisoned in the Mantra, are too serious and too urgent to wait until the pandemic is over. A healthy society needs the right to healthy protest. The refugees must be freed on both humanitarian and public health grounds,” said Glanz.
• Hundreds of refugee supporters will gather online in solidarity when RAC member Chris Breen fronts court on 2 October, charged with incitement in relation to a COVID-safe car convoy protest on Good Friday. More details.
For more information or interviews, contact David Glanz on 0438 547 723.
Refugee moved to high security after speaking out on COVID-19 – four now on hunger strike
3 August 2020
“Four refugees in immigration detention in Brisbane, Farhad Rahmati, Mehdi, Mehrzad and Adnan, are on hunger strike in protest at the apparent punishment of Adnan for his complaints over staff failure to use personal, protective equipment (PPE) and maintain social distancing,” said Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective.
“Farhad Rahmati, a refugee currently held in Brisbane’s Immigration Transit Accommodation facility (BITA) after spending six years detained on Manus island, is today on day 4 of his hunger strike in protest against the removal of 22-year-old Adnan from BITA’s residential compound to the high-security compound, a place usually reserved for those who have committed serious crimes.
“Rahmati says that Adnan complained to a Serco manager at lunchtime on Friday 31 July that kitchen staff were not wearing PPE and that International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) staff were not wearing masks or practising social distancing.
“Between 3 and 4pm that afternoon Adnan was moved to the high security wing of BITA. Rahmati believes that Adnan was moved to the high-security wing because of his complaints.
“Adnan was only 15 when Australia forcibly transferred him to the Nauru Regional Processing Centre on 20 July 2013. He is now 22. He attempted suicide on 20 July 2020, the first day of his eighth year in immigration detention. He should not be held in high security isolation,” said Breen.
“Farhad says his own ‘next meal will be with Adnan when he is returned to BITA’s residential area’.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the severity of Australia’s cruel detention regime. Social distancing is impossible in detention centres. Refugees must not be punished for raising safety issues to do with COVID-19. Even if Serco were to deny that moving Adnan was a punishment, there is no good reason to keep an unwell young man in high security isolation.
“The Refugee Action Collective calls on the the Morrison Coalition government to release Adnan and all refugees into the community. RAC also calls on Queensland Premier Palaszczuk to demand the release of the refugees held in her State,” concluded Breen.
For further comment call Chris Breen on 0403 013 183.
Mantra COVID-19 case confirmed: release the Medevac refugees
“A security guard who worked on the third floor of the Mantra Bell City hotel in Preston has tested positive to COVID-19. Australian Border Force informed refugees of the positive result last night. Workers in hazmat suits have been cleaning the third floor where refugees are imprisoned but refugees themselves still do not have adequate PPE,” said Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective.
“This positive case confirms all the warnings from refugee advocates about the risk of COVID-19 to refugees held in detention who are unable to physically distance or protect themselves from the virus. In addition, authorities are not proposing uniform testing for refugees as they have for other residents of Melbourne affected by outbreaks. Refugees have been offered optional testing and, if they take up the offer, will be required to isolate in solitary confinement while awaiting test results.
“Mostafa Azimitabar (Moz from Manus) a refugee held at the Mantra, said ‘Everyone is panicking, nobody could sleep last night. I could not get to sleep until 5am. ABF said they could not guarantee that we wouldn’t get infected, when I asked.’ Moz said that the security guard was from MSS security and last worked at the Mantra one week ago. MSS is one of the security companies linked to the leaks of COVID-19 from Victoria’s quarantine hotels.
“Australia’s acting Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, has called public housing towers ‘vertical cruise ships’. The detention centres and hotels are similar. Refugees who have committed no crime and who have been detained for seven years are now having their lives threatened by being held unnecessarily in cruise-like detention conditions. This is beyond cruel. This is a form of torture.
“Refugee supporters have been fined, and charged with ‘incitement’ for a safe car convoy drawing attention to the plight of the refugees in the Mantra. There have been zero cases of COVID-19 associated with protests for refugee rights. Meanwhile there are no penalties for authorities whose willful negligence has led to actual cases of COVID-19. Despite multiple warnings, government authorities continue to put refugees at risk of COVID-19 infection.
“The Refugee Action Collective calls for an independent inquiry to ascertain the facts about the potential exposure of refugees and guards, and for testing of all potentially exposed individuals to commence.
“The Refugee Action Collective calls on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to immediately release the Medevac refugees from detention in the Mantra hotel, and across Australia.
“We also call on the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to take action: instead of using Victorian health regulations to target refugee supporters who are shining a light on the cruel, unfair and unsafe conditions of refugee detention, the regulations should be applied to release the refugees to safety and freedom,” concluded Breen.
For further comment call Chris Breen on 0403 013 183.
End the imprisonment in ‘vertical cruise ships’ for refugees and public housing tenants
8 July 2020
“As cases of COVID-19 have jumped dramatically in Victoria, the Andrews government has responded with authoritarian measures, and attempted to shift blame from its own mismanagement of the quarantine hotels onto individual behaviour, migrant families and public housing residents,” said Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective.
“Premier Daniel Andrews’ discriminatory hard lockdown of public housing residents, and silence on the indefinite lockdown of refugees in Victoria (many held in ‘hotspot’ suburbs), has made it clear that we are not ‘all in it together’.
“There are stark parallels between refugees locked indefinitely in the prison hotels and detention centres, and public housing residents mostly from migrant and refugee backgrounds imprisoned in their houses,” said Breen.
“Both tenants and refugees are trapped in situations in which it is impossible to socially distance. National acting Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly has called the towers ‘vertical cruise ships’. But the hard lockdown, as with the hard lockdown of refugees, risks creating exactly the cruise-like conditions that it claims to be addressing.
“Residents are trapped at close quarters with no escape. Those with COVID-19 are not being removed to isolation hotels but kept in conditions where it is impossible to maintain strict quarantine. There is no escape for elderly or immuno-compromised residents, just like there is no escape for immuno-compromised refugees who came to Australia under the Medevac legislation.
“Imprisoning public housing tenants in their homes, many of whom are refugees, and imprisoning refugees indefinitely, puts them at risk of COVID-19. It is a repeat of the mistakes that saw cruise ship passengers held for weeks at sea as COVID-19 spread among them.
“The Black Lives Matter protests that have exposed police racism show that police are not a neutral force in marginalised communities. Residents are fearful of the 500 police stationed across every floor of the towers, just as refugees are fearful of the power that Serco and Border Force guards exercise over their daily lives.
“The Refugee Action Collective in Melbourne calls for an end to the indefinite detention of Medevac refugees and an end to the hard lockdown for refugees and all residents in the public housing towers. Refugees and public housing tenants should have the same access to health care, groceries, essential goods, exercise, work and study as everyone else.
“The Refugee Action Collective in Melbourne and the Refugee Action Coalition in Sydney have signed on to the Stand Together Against Racism (STAR) statement End the Public Housing Lockdown – Healthcare Not Racist Policing along with 460 other individuals and organisations,” concluded Breen
For further comment call Chris Breen on 0403 013 183.
Detention of refugees a blindspot in hotspot suburbs
1 July 2020
As Melbourne experiences a spike in COVID-19 cases, refugees remain locked in unsanitary and crowded conditions in the city’s north with hot spots popping up around them.
The 65 refugees who have been held in the Mantra Bell City Hotel for almost a year have serious underlying health conditions caused or worsened by years of detention offshore. The hotel is only a few blocks from Reservoir, one of Melbourne’s virus hotspots.
Around 40 refugees are held in the MITA detention centre in Broadmeadows, a suburb with one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks and is among the list of postcodes announced on 30 June to have lockdown restrictions reintroduced.
The Refugee Action Collective (RAC) once again calls for the release of all refugees into the community.
“While the Victorian Government addresses the spike in cases in the community, the refugees in Mantra and MITA are being deliberately left in high-risk environments,” RAC spokesperson Meg Hill said.
“These refugees should not only be protected from the virus, but should be freed from all detention and released into the community. The conditions they are living in in the midst of a pandemic only serve to highlight the wilful negligence of the federal government’s treatment of refugees, and the Victorian government’s silence on this issue”
Moz Azimitabar, a refugee inside the Mantra Hotel, said the refugees had been deprived of sunlight and outdoor spaces. Detention in the hotel had always been tortuous, but the conditions worsened with the onset of the pandemic.
“We don’t have any facilities outside here but before [the pandemic] we had the chance to go to the MITA detention centre and get sunlight,” he said.
“But here our bodies are getting weaker day-by-day and we have no sunlight. I feel that we are getting very depressed. We spend 23 hours of a day inside our rooms because we feel the virus is outside.
“We have been transferred to Australia for medical help but instead the Australian Government is punishing us.”
Moz is one of the refugees that organises protests inside the hotel. His room mate Farhad Bandesh was moved to the MITA detention centre in Broadmeadows, but he said the other refugees share rooms.
“Security guards come several times a day to the rooms, we feel that they could bring the virus in. Apart from COVID-19 we feel that our mental health is deteriorating because we don’t have any private place,” he said.
“They come in at all hours without knocking, at 6.30am, 10am, 11pm, at any time.”
Premier Daniel Andrews has admitted that Victoria’s rapid uptick in cases is partially linked to transmission from security at quarantine hotels.
RAC therefore has no confidence that Serco or Australian Border Force will be able to manage an outbreak if the virus is brought into detention at the Mantra or MITA detention centre.
Moz also said the refugees often ran out of basic sanitary items like soap.
“I feel that they don’t have any plan for releasing us into the community. We have been locked up in jail for more than 2500 days and the two major parties are blaming each other instead of thinking about humanity,” Moz said.
“One guy attempted suicide here in May. Fortunately he is alive. They moved him to MITA instead of treating him properly after they took him to hospital. Instead of treating him properly they put him in another cage.”
For further comment contact Meg Hill on 0437 882 733.
Mobiles are essential, detention isn’t – reject the Bill to confiscate refugees’ phones
29 June 2020
“A proposed federal government Bill that would enable detention centre guards to strip-search detainees and confiscate their mobile phones is cruel and unnecessary,” said Max Costello for the Refugee Action Collective (Victoria).
“RAC (Vic) has documented this position in a submission to a Senate inquiry into the Bill, now publicly available alongside other submissions on the inquiry’s website. The only submission that supports the Bill is from Serco Australia, the company that employs the guards.”
“The Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020 is being examined by the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, which must report back to the Senate on 5 August. The government’s ‘case’ – its official reasons for the Bill, as stated in Immigration Minister Tudge’s parliamentary Second Reading speech – is little more than hot air, and unproven smears,” continued Costello.
“RAC (Vic)’s submission (no. 56) points out that, for individuals who have been subjected to torture, or other persecution in the country they fled from, strip searches, or the threat of them, would be psychological torture.
“Mobiles are lifelines, enabling convenient and confidential communication with family, lawyers, and support services. They have become even more essential since visits have been halted because of COVID-19.
“Mobiles also enable detainees to record their treatment and conditions within detention. Access to smartphones has helped expose abuses. Behrouz Boochani’s film Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time, exposing conditions in offshore detention, was filmed entirely on mobile phone. Increasing the powers of ABF and Serco staff would lead to more frequent and serious abuses, exacerbating existing threats being faced by people in detention.
“RAC’s submission argues that the proposed legislation is incompatible with Australia’s Human Rights obligations, and the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth) that applies to all detention facilities. In essence, the Act requires Home Affairs/ABF to pro-actively eliminate all preventable risks to the health (including psychological health) and safety of both detainees and staff.
“RAC (Vic) strongly recommends that the Bill be rejected in full. The immigration detention system already lacks openness, transparency and accountability. Endlessly detaining human beings outside the criminal justice system, often in breach of COVID-19 regulations, is remorselessly damaging the physical and psychological health of detainees.
“Refugees and asylum-seekers in detention must be set free, not punished further by confiscation of their phones, which are lifelines to the outside world,” concluded Costello.
Media contact: Max Costello 0425 701 690 or Marg Sinclair 0417 031 533.
RAC’s submission can be found here
All other submissions are available here
Protesters are safe, detention is not: a response to Commissioner Outram
20 June 2020
Protesters at Kangaroo Point APOD in Brisbane have been observing COVID-19 restrictions much better than people at shopping centres, markets, the 5G/anti vaxxer protests and even the police force themselves who have been present at the protests over the past month.
We believe the main reason for the statement put out by Michael Outram, Commissioner of ABF, was because he was against the protests in general as indeed he would be even if the COVID-19 pandemic was not current.
While many people held at the Kangaroo Point APOD (and the Mantra APOD) had indeed arrived under the Medevac laws, being held in detention was not a necessary part of that transfer. It was only a stipulation put in place by ABF who presented refugees on both Nauru and in PNG the ultimatum that if they wished to have a medical transfer to Australia, they would need to agree to be held in detention.
We have viewed this paperwork and would like to point out that the exact wording did not specifically say ‘held detention’. There are other forms of immigration detention that do not require either Serco guards or the held confines of an APOD or the current prisonlike reiteration of detention centres. Any time Outram or Tudge like they can release these people. It is disappointing but also unsurprising that they choose to keep these people incarcerated in detention.
It seems that the government has no preventative measures in relation to preventing the spread of this COVID-19 should it enter, beyond keeping possible cases in the rooms recognised widely as ‘punishment rooms’ and used for solitary confinement.
It was the actions and work culture of ABF refusing to follow the medical advice of medical professionals on both Manus and Nauru that led to the need for the Medevac legislation. However after arrival in Australia, the final decision on medical treatment was once again back in the hands of ABF and as a consequence, very few people have received any treatment.
The likely order to ‘go slow’ and join the long public health queues has meant that many people who arrived in Australia have been here for more than a year in circumstances which have led to their health further deteriorating.
It is disingenuous to see Outram recommend that people detained need to be encouraged to complete health treatment when he knows full well that the completion of that health treatment depends on him and ABF. Some people have been able to contact independent doctors and dentists who are willing to do the work without cost to the Australian government but every request to allow this treatment was denied. Instances of this occurred long before COVID-19 made its way to our shores.
There is no reason why these men and women in detention can’t be released. They have passed security checks, can better access medical treatment, can meet up with friends, some of whom arrived on the same boats and have been allowed to resettle here in Australia.
It is particularly worrisome that Outram continues the government propaganda line that somehow ABF ‘care’ for people detained, when he actively delays proper medical treatment, and is so eager to see them off to America, which is currently in a health and societal mess, or back to their home countries as though he is unaware of the wars, torture and persecution that caused them to become refugees in the first place.
We call for ABF to be dismantled, and a return of the more honest and civilised ‘Customs’. We call on the Australian government to end their character assassination of refugees, and to release these people from immigration detention. There is no ‘administrative’ point to them being there and everything ‘punitive’ about how they have been treated.
We call out that the real motive for them being kept in detention is out of the sheer spite of Peter Dutton who had/has a bad case of sour grapes that they had arrived in Australia legally through the Medevac legislation which he did not support.
Media contact: Margaret Sinclair, 0417 031 533
Official War Artists condemn silencing of refugee artist
20 June 2020
Australia’s Official War Artists have come out in condemnation of the punitive treatment of a fellow artist held in detention by the Australian government.
Kurdish artist and musician Farhad Bandesh has been in detention since 2013, when he first came to Australia seeking asylum, including six years in Papua New Guinea and 11 months in facilities around Melbourne.
On 23 April 2020, while moving him from one site to another, authorities confiscated his art materials—materials through which Bandesh channelled his creativity in order to cope. This action followed his speaking out publicly on ABC’s Q+A about risks facing people in immigration detention.
The Official War Artists’ letter will be published on World Refugee Day, 20 June 2020, on the website of the National Association for the Visual Arts. All but one of the currently active Official War Artists have signed the letter, declaring that: “We condemn the silencing of a fellow artist and the suffering of all those who, like Farhad, have spent years in offshore detention and are still waiting for their freedom.”
The letter affirms “the power of a free voice in an unfree system” and the importance of artistic expression among the statements “that refugees and asylum-seekers have made to depict and resist their detention, to share their humanity with the outside world.”
Speaking from confinement in MITA, Farhad Bandesh welcomed the statement of solidarity and highlighted the hardships to which he and fellow detainees are subjected. “First I would like to thank the artists, and those who have worked with this project. I have a question why an artist can’t have art supplies, why the Australian policy treats innocent people in cruelty way? I ask all artists, musicians and actors be united and speak out loud about artists’ rights.”
The Official War Art Scheme is managed by the Australian War Memorial and is Australia’s oldest art commissioning program. Artists are embedded with Australian military forces in conflict zones and peacekeeping missions.
Among the signatories are some of Australia’s most celebrated artists, including multiple winners of the Archibald Prize and other honours. One artist was unreachable. The statement has been prepared independently of the AWM.
Lyndell Brown and Charles Green were appointed as Official War Artists in 2007, one of several commissions relating to the Middle East. “The scary intensity we felt in active war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan intensified our profound empathy for all those who flee their homes in times of conflict,” said Brown and Green, who work collaboratively. “Refugees deserve to be given a chance.”
When Bandesh was brought to Australia under the Medevac law, as he explained recently to writer and refugee advocate Arnold Zable: “I thought, maybe they will release me into the community. Maybe I will have an exhibition, a concert. Or maybe they will keep me here for years and years. I was here, in Melbourne, but I was not here. It was like a dream, but I was back in prison.”
People transferred under the Medevac law have been kept in closed detention, unlike others who had previously been brought to Australia for medical treatment and now live in community detention. Many among the Medevac group have reported not receiving the care for which the independent medical panel recommended their transfer. The law has since been repealed.
Artist Rick Amor pointed to the silencing of artists by 20th-century totalitarian states: “The idea of confiscating paint and brushes from detainees is not new. The Nazis did it. This is the latest of a string of measures designed to be ever more cruel to a group of people who are legally seeking protection in this country.” Amor was appointed as Official War Artist in Timor-Leste (then East Timor) in 1999 along with Wendy Sharpe, the first War Art commission since the Vietnam War.
“Withholding an artist’s materials is a cruelty—and like all the cruelties that asylum-seekers under our care experience, it’s entirely unnecessary,” said Esther Anatolitis, Executive Director of the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA).
“I look forward to seeing an end to this practice, and indeed, to all practices that make life unbearable for people seeking asylum. Let’s take our duty of care seriously.”
NAVA, the national peak body of the Australian visual and media arts, craft and design sector, is publishing the letter via their website.
Signatories to the letter
Tony Albert, Official War Artist, Northern Australia, 2012
Rick Amor, Official War Artist, Timor-Leste, 1999
Lyndell Brown and Charles Green, Official War Artists, Afghanistan and Iraq, 2007
Jon Cattapan, Official War Artist, Timor-Leste, 2008
Peter Churcher, Official War Artist, Middle Eastern operations, 2002
Megan Cope, Official War Artist, Middle Eastern operations, 2017
eX de Medici, Official War Artist, Solomon Islands, 2009
Shaun Gladwell, Official War Artist, Afghanistan, 2009
Lewis Miller, Official War Artist, Iraq, 2003
Susan Norrie, Official War Artist, Iraq, 2016-2019
Ben Quilty, Official War Artist, Afghanistan, 2011
Wendy Sharpe, Official War Artist, Timor-Leste, 1999
For more information contact Eleanor Davey at email@example.com
Action alert: Police threaten refugee rally
12 June 2020
Refugee Lives Matter – 7 Years Too Long – Free Them Now!
Refugee supporters will protest the indefinite detention of refugees at eight locations in Melbourne simultaneously at 2pm on 13 June.
The Refugee Action Collective (Vic) (RAC) has initiated the protest as part of a National Day of Action that will include protests in Brisbane and Sydney.
There will be actions in Melbourne at Mantra Bell City Hotel in Preston, the MITA detention centre in Broadmeadows, Border Force in Docklands, Casselden Place Home Affairs Office, Liberal Party Headquarters at 60 Collins Street, the State Library Victoria, State Parliament and Immigration Minister Alan Tudge’s office.
Protesters have changed plans for the action to be centred on two locations, the Mantra Bell City Hotel and the MITA detention centre, due to threats of massive fines from police.
“As a global wave of protest spreads against racism and police impunity, it is outrageous that Preston police are threatening refugee supporters with their own peculiar interpretation of health regulations,” said Chris Breen for RAC.
Meg Hill for RAC said: “The Preston police told us that if we have more than 20 people, even in rotating groups of that size at different times (previously allowed by police), at the Mantra Bell City Hotel we will be in breach of the health laws and fined. This is a politically biased interpretation of the health laws and an infringement on the right to protest.
“Restaurants and businesses are allowed to have 20 people constantly rotating different people throughout the day. If customers were counted in this way, the shops would have to close each day after they reached maximum.”
Chris Breen said: “RAC calls on the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and the Victorian Chief Health Officer to explain the discrepancy. RAC also calls on Daniel Andrews to end his silence over the Coalition’s continued imprisonment of Medevac refugees in conditions that do not comply with Victorian health regulations, and put refugees at risk of COVID-19.”
RAC is protesting the long-term detention of these refugees.
Meg Hill continued: “The people in the Mantra Hotel have been in detention for almost seven years. They were brought to the mainland for medical treatment and so are an at-risk group now forced to stay locked in crowded and unclean conditions while a deadly pandemic has spread across the world.
“This is just one more layer added to an already cruel and distressing situation.”
The 65 refugees trapped in the Mantra hotel in Preston have protested their abuse and unsafe conditions, as have the 46 refugees at the MITA detention centre in Broadmeadows, and the 108 held at Kangaroo Point in Brisbane.
RAC is calling for those in detention across Australia to be immediately released into the community and given permanent protection. The protest will hear from refugees inside Mantra, MITA and Christmas Island detention centres, unionists, activists and others.
For comment ring:
Angelica on 0478 686 370
Mitch on 0406 820 184
Meg on 0437 882 733
Chris on 0403 013 183
Details of the separate locations are below.
Mantra Hotel: 215 Bell Street, Preston
Contacts: Angelica Panopoulos 0478 686 370 and Mitchell Booth 0406 820 184
Speakers: (in person) Jana Favero – ASRC, Lidia Thorpe – former Greens MP for Northcote, Robin Rothfield – Labor 4 Refugees, Aran Mylvaganam – Tamil Refugee Council
Speakers: (by phone) Moz from Manus – detained at the Mantra, Hassan from Justice for Refugees, Priya – detained on Christmas Island
MITA Detention Centre: 120-150 Camp Road, Broadmeadows
Contacts: Margaret Sinclair 0417 031 533 and Max Costello 0425 701 690
Speakers in person: Kath Larkin – RTBU Women’s officer
Speakers (by phone or pre-recorded) Moz from Manus – detained at the Mantra, Hassan from Justice for Refugees, Priya – detained on Christmas Island
Australian Border Force: 1010 Latrobe Street, Docklands, near Marvel Stadium
Contact: Chris Breen 0403 013 183
Department of Home Affairs: Casselden Place, 2 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
Contact: Chris MacPherson 0436 010 575
Victorian State Library: 328 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Contact Jacob Andrewatha 0458 958 385
Liberal Party of Australia headquarters: 60 Collins Street
Contact: Kerry Leane 0419 274 614
Immigration Minister, Alan Tudge’s office: 420 Burwood Highway, Wantirna South
Contact: Pru Licht 0447 546 327
Victorian Parliament House, Spring Street
Contact: Lucy Honan 0404 728 104
The Sydney protest will be 2pm on 13 June at Town Hall Square
The Brisbane protest will be 2pm on 13 June at 721 Main Street, Kangaroo Point
Action alert: Refugee supporters to rally at Mantra in staggered groups of ten
15 May 2020
“From 2pm this Saturday May 16, refugee supporters will be protesting in relay form, in staggered groups of 10 outside the Mantra hotel detention centre in Preston,” said Lucy Honan for the Refugee Action Collective.
“Pressure is mounting on the Federal government to release the refugees held in detention. The recent actions at the Mantra hotel and MITA detention centre by activists and refugees have also intensified pressure on the Andrews government to speak up and to use health powers to release refugees.
“This protest will keep up the pressure, and comply with the new COVID health directions. We will conduct a protest relay, rotating through groups of 10 socially distanced protesters at a time.
“The protest area will be on Hotham Street, near the big refugee banner, opposite Bell City Mantra.
“The attempted suicide by hanging of a 32-year-old Tamil man at the Mantra shows that refugees are at breaking point. They have spent almost seven years locked up having committed no crime, and the threat of COVID-19 is adding to the pressure on their mental health.
“We will call to free the refugees held across Australia and to drop the charge and fines on refugee supporters for their safe car convoy protest on April 10.
“We will have loudspeakers with speakers including Moz from Manus via phone from the Mantra, Hassan from Justice for Refugees, former Victorian MP Lidia Thorpe, Darebin Councillor Gaetano Greco, and Farhad Banesh from MITA via phone,” concluded Honan.
For comment, ring Lucy Honan on 0404 728 104.
Serco denies art materials to outspoken refugee
13 May 2020
Home Affairs and Serco forcibly moved Farhad Bandesh from the Mantra Hotel in Preston to MITA in Broadmeadows over three weeks ago. They continue to deny him access to his personal effects, including art supplies.
This appears to be an act of punishment for taking a public stand for his rights on the Manus Island refugee prison, in the Mantra Hotel and now in MITA.
He submitted a request form for his property items as directed, requesting access to his books, drawing pencils, brushes, paint and other creative materials.
Over these three weeks he repeatedly asked about the request. Each time he enquired he was directed to submit another request form – seven in total – as well as following up verbally with the manager several times. He was told yesterday that he will not be getting his property items. They gave no explanation.
Farhad fears his mental health will deteriorate as it is art that keeps him able to sustain himself. “And I can’t handle the fences. They are killing me.
“After seven years they still want to make us suffer any way they can. We are all sick, we need to be free. We have been tortured and tortured. They must remove us from this cruel hell,” he said.
Other people detained are allowed to have such items. This appears to be a direct punishment for him speaking up against this cruel policy.
Yesterday’s attempted suicide by a 32-year-old Tamil man at the Mantra should be enough evidence that the cruelty must end.
“Farhad has spoken out repeatedly against the refugee policy of successive governments,” Mitch Both, Refugee Action Collective spokesperson, said.
“The removal of Farhad from Mantra under cover of darkness three weeks ago was a punishment imposed for exercising his basic democratic rights to protest the appalling treatment he has suffered. This is yet another punishment. Farhad must be released.”
For comment call Mitch Both on 0406 820 184.
Police show political bias on protesting once again
10 May 2020
Just one day after police mobilised outside the Mantra Bell City hotel in Preston to fine three people exercising safely with pro-refugee posters, a crowd of over 100 anti-lockdown protesters without social distancing has been allowed to assemble outside State Parliament.
Refugee Action Collective spokesperson Lucy Honan said the police had twice turned out in numbers to shut down socially distanced solidarity action with the 65 refugees locked up in the Mantra and at grave risk of becoming a COVID-19 cluster.
“On Good Friday, they arrested one RAC supporter, Chris Breen, and charged him with incitement, and fined 30 refugee supporters who attended almost $50,000. The protest was not allowed to take place at all.
“Yesterday, they fined three refugee supporters exercising outside the hotel a total of five times.
“In shutting down our safe protest on Good Friday, Inspector Tom Ebinger from Darebin police said ‘Protest activity is not an exemption … There were here for an honourable purpose but community health has got to take priority for us and protest activity isn’t legal in the current environment.’
“Yet the police allowed an unsafe, right wing protest to take place in Trafalgar and have now allowed over 100 to crowd in on the steps of Parliament,” Honan said.
“This is total hypocrisy and shows the Victoria Police are politically biased.
“We call on Premier Dan Andrews to support the right to protest within the spirit of the health regulations, and to stop his police force from discriminating against refugee rights supporters.
“Meanwhile the men in the Mantra, who are suffering a range of medical conditions, are trapped and in fear of a COVID-19 outbreak. Premier Andrews needs to speak up for these refugees detained in Melbourne.
“They should be freed and the charge and fines against refugee supporters dropped,” Honan said.
For comment, ring Lucy Honan on 0404 728 104.
Support for Breen and the others is growing, with five unions, three senators and six state MPs among the many backing the call for the charge and fines to be dropped. See a full list.
Police fine refugee supporters for carrying placards
9 May 2020
In another disgraceful display of an authoritarian state attacking the right to protest, Victorian police have again turned out to fine refugee supporters for being outside the Mantra hotel-prison that is holding 65 refugees in unsafe conditions.
“Despite announcing that the exercise protest at the Mantra Hotel had been postponed, Victorian police nonetheless turned out in numbers to issue fines to anyone carrying a placard outside the Mantra Hotel,” said Lucy Honan for the Refugee Action Collective.
“Three people exercising and carrying signs saying ‘detention is a covid risk’ had their details taken and were told they would get fines in the mail. Two were told by police that they will be fined twice ($3304 each) for not leaving quickly enough. People not carrying signs were not fined.
“When thousands of people are exercising over the weekend in Darebin, it is crystal clear that these three refugee supporters have been targeted for their political views. It is the refugees at the Mantra hotel who are not safe, not refugee supporters carrying signs.”
Mark, who was fined twice today, said: “This ongoing imprisonment of innocent people and the blatant harassment of their supporters is a gross injustice and a naked exercise of punitive authoritarian power.”
Honan concluded: “The Refugee Action Collective calls on Premier Daniel Andrews to end his silence, to speak up for the refugees in the Mantra, and to call on his police to stop harassing and fining refugee rights supporters. Safe political protest calling to free refugees at risk of COVID-19 is an essential activity and must be allowed.”
Call Lucy from RAC on 0404 728 104 or fined protester Mark on 0420 544 084 for further comment.
Police threaten refugee supporters with hundreds of thousands in fines
7 May 2020
Preston police have threatened to issue mass infringement notices to refugee supporters if they exercise outside the Mantra Bell City hotel.
The Refugee Action Collective has been calling on people to take their exercise there this Saturday, 9 May, to show compassion with the more than 60 refugees detained in the hotel.
RAC activist Lucy Honan said: “Exercise or offering care are both legitimate reasons to be away from home. But the police are threatening to treat people walking or jogging at safe, social distance as public enemies.
“With up to 400 people indicating interest in exercising, that would mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines – all for the crime of caring about men who have been detained on Manus or Nauru for six years and now for up to a year in Preston.
“Safe, socially distanced exercise is not a risk. Locking up men brought here under the Medevac Act with pre-existing medical and psychological conditions, up to three to a room for 23 hours a day, is the real health risk.
“If the coronavirus is brought in by one of dozens of staff members, the refugees are vulnerable and trapped. They should be freed into the community where there are people offering caring, safe accommodation,” Honan said.
“Daniel Andrews has to take a stand and treat these refugees with basic humanity. The emergency health powers must be used to free them from detention. He needs to call off the police repression of our basic democratic right to protest.
“Police recently allowed a right-wing protest in Trafalgar to go ahead for 40 minutes with no social distancing, taking no names for infringement notices.
“Refugee supporters exercising outside the Kangaroo Point hotel in Brisbane, where more than 100 refugees are detained, have not been harassed by police, with another mass exercise called for Friday.
“Dan Andrews says he is the most progressive premier in Australia, but he is allowing his police to play blatant political favourites and crack down on our basic democratic rights. Andrews needs to end this attack on democracy,” Honan added.
For interviews, ring Lucy Honan on 0404 728 104.
Preston police have already charged a high school teacher, Chris Breen, and issued $48,000 in fines to 29 refugee supporters for taking part in a safe car convoy around the Mantra Bell City on Good Friday.
Support for Breen and the others is growing, with five unions, three senators and six state MPs among the many backing the call for the charge and fines to be dropped. See a full list.